College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences
Orchards of the Future — Think Automation
In orchards and vineyards of the future, one sensor will measure the amount of photosynthetic energy being absorbed by tree and vine canopies at any time of day. Still others will sense moisture levels from leaves and soil. A variable-rate irrigation system can then supply just the right amount of water and fertilizer, depending on what a particular plant needs. And all the information can be collected, processed and seen by growers in real time through their mobile devices so they can make informed decisions quickly.
Washington State University’s Center for Precision and Automated Agricultural Systems is working with University of California at Davis and others on a three-year, $2.6 million U.S. Department of Agriculture project to bring this future to the present.
“This research is aimed at developing and integrating soil- and plant-based sensors to monitor the state and condition of plant canopies for optimizing management within orchards and vineyards,” said Qin Zhang, WSU CPAAS director. “The importance of this research to Washington’s wine grape and tree fruit industries is that the profitability of the industry is strongly dependent on the production of high-quality fruit, which is associated with a proper balance of canopy and crop load.”
Project researchers are developing a farm-based, precision management system to help specialty crop growers improve quality and increase production efficiency while reducing their environmental footprint. The project has seven objectives, of which WSU is participating in five:
Mobile platform for measuring canopy architecture and photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) absorption. PAR is necessary for photosynthesis and plant growth. In orchards, researchers have studied the relationship between the amount of this energy canopies absorb and increasing productivity. The information gathered from the platform—equipped with a GPS receiver, radar and infrared thermometers—can be used to determine the effect of canopy management on yield, quality and more.
WSU researchers took the PAR absorption study a step further when they evaluated sweet cherry trees trained to new, two-dimensional fruiting wall architectures at the WSU Roza Research Orchard near Prosser. They found that trees trained to a Y trellis absorbed more light over the course of a day than trees trained to an upright fruiting offshoot (UFO) system.
“It could provide the fundamental information needed to improve both fruit yield and quality in a UFO system by carefully planning the pruning of trees,” Zhang said.
Sensor suite for detecting plant and soil water status. Sensors for infrared temperature, PAR, wind speed, relative humidity and ambient air temperature make up the suite. An in-ground probe measures soil moisture, electrical conductivity, organic matter and compaction.
WSU is also investigating modifications to the suite to monitor water stress of grapevines. Additions include infrared thermography to detect temperature distribution patterns of sunlit and shaded canopies, as well as a handheld light bar and multispectral camera to measure PAR absorption under different water stress levels.
Decision support system. WSU has created a prototype software analysis tool so participating growers and university researchers can assimilate and rapidly act on the information they receive from sensing devices in the field. The tool can import and integrate a wide variety of data in different formats, including time, location, temperatures and other readings; process the information and show results specific to a grower’s farming operation; and support a range of Internet-connected mobile devices, such as a smart phone or tablet.
“This is a very challenging task,” Zhang said. “We’re giving growers the basic algorithm, and they can choose the interface. Some want a paper copy of the data analysis; others want it on their iPhone. Some want results in color; others in black and white. Some want to see something in 3-D; others in 2-D. It’s difficult to please everybody. The important thing is to make the information available visually in real time.”
Variable-rate irrigation system. A network of wireless sensors and controllers manages irrigation so a tree or group of trees receives only the amount of water and fertilizer needed. WSU is evaluating the system on grapes in a test plot at the WSU Roza Research Orchard. Part of the evaluation will include studying the effects on berry size and phenolic content when grapes are not irrigated early in the growing season.
Social impact study. WSU has developed a 22-question survey to assess what growers think of the sensors and technologies that are part of the project. Questions address canopy and irrigation management in orchards and vineyards, the two major needs stakeholders have identified.
According to UC Davis, the long-term goal of the project is to establish the foundation for precise management of specialty crops at levels unattainable with satellite-based and aerial sensing. For details about its full scope, visit the project website.
“We envision the creation of an information-based, decision-making infrastructure that will drive Washington’s tree fruit and wine grape industries into this new precision agriculture revolution, an era of precision crop management,” Zhang said.
University of Arizona, New Mexico State University, Veris Technologies Inc., Oregon State University, AgInformatics LLC and Trimble Navigation Ltd. are also project investigators. Other participating agencies and producers include the Almond Board of California, California Walnut Board, Christensen Farms LLC, Constellation Wines, Olsen Brothers Ranches Inc., USDA and the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission.
WSU CPAAS, established in 1999 as the WSU Center for Precision Agricultural Systems, promotes creative research and extension activities for more effective growing, harvesting and processing of specialty crops through mechanization and automation. For more information, visit the WSU CPAAS website.
CAHNRS is more than agriculture. With 24 majors, 19 minors, and 27 graduate level programs, we are one of the largest, most diverse colleges at WSU. CAHNRS Cougs are making a difference in the wellbeing of individuals, families, and communities, improving ecological and economic systems, and advancing agricultural sciences.
Students have a variety of options to pursue masters and doctoral degrees. Many of these have very specific background requirements, so we suggest exploring the individual programs for academic guidelines.
Being a CAHNRS Coug is about having a life-changing experience and having fun along the way. With an endless array of subjects to study, students can explore a variety of topics until they focus on that area that truly excites them. We include ample opportunities to learn outside the classroom, because we not only believe it’s a better way to learn, it makes for a more meaningful and enjoyable college experience.
The Center for Transformational Learning and Leadership makes it possible for students to secure that job-landing internship, experience another culture in the southern hemisphere, unlock their leadership potential through seminars and workshops, and find a mentor to coach them through their academic experience.
CAHNRS knows how to throw a party, and there is not greater time to celebrate than when our students return to campus. Free food (including Ferdinand’s Ice Cream), swag from each of our student clubs, activities, and a drawing for $1,000 scholarships—its all part of our annual Fall Festival. And we just don’t limit the event to our CAHNRS majors, we welcome everyone across campus to learn more about what our college offers.
CAHNRS Office of Research
Agricultural Research Center
The goal of the Washington State University CAHNRS Office of Research is to promote research beneficial to the citizens of Washington. The Office of Research recognizes its unique land-grant research mission to the people of Washington and their increasing global connections. The CAHNRS Office of Research provides leadership in discovering and applying knowledge through high-quality research that contributes to a safe and abundant food, fiber, and energy supply while enhancing the sustainability of agricultural and natural resource systems.
Pullman, Wash. — Dairy cows produce lots of manure. A WSU student’s research on cutting the environmental impact of all that waste won him second place in a poster competition at Seattle’s annual Waste to Worth conference.
George Neerackal, who graduates later this year with a doctorate in Biological Systems Engineering, took second in the Ron Sheffield Memorial Student poster contest, held March 31 to April 3.
His poster, “Mitigating ammonia emissions from dairy barns through manure-pH management,” was among three winners chosen by a national panel of judges.
“In the United States, ammonia pollution from intensive animal production systems is a serious concern,” said Neerackal.
Dairies, in particular, are a major source. Using acid to reduce the pH of manure could be a viable way to cut ammonia pollution. However, acid treatments can be costly and potentially dangerous, explained Neerackal.
Neerackal developed a closed-loop system that uses acid-treated water to flush manure from dairy barns.
His approach cut ammonia emissions by 87 percent, and reduced the amount of acid needed to treat the flush water by 85 percent.
“Producers can use more diluted acids, with the added benefit of reduced hazards,” said Neerackal. His next step: trying this approach in a full-scale dairy barn.
“The novelty in George’s approach is making this approach more practical,” said Pius Ndegwa, a BSE associate professor and Neerackal’s advisor. “The implication of this is enormous to the dairy industry.”
Ammonia is a valuable fertilizer, and reducing emissions preserves its economic value while decreasing harm to the environment.
“Ammonia emission is an economic loss to the dairyman and also an environmental concern,” said Joe Harrison, a nutrient management specialist at Washington State University and chair of the Waste to Worth conference.
“George’s research showed that emission could be reduced, saving the farmer money and preventing loss to the atmosphere,” Harrison added.
The Waste to Worth conference focuses on research, outreach, and innovation in animal agriculture and environmental stewardship topics, with a focus on manure management.
The poster contest is named in memory of Ron Sheffield, a Louisiana State University professor who died in 2012. Sheffield was known for his positive attitude and encouragement of young professionals.
Links for learning
• Learn more about Biological Systems Engineering at WSU here.
• Learn more about the Waste to Worth conference here.
• Learn more about manure management at WSU Extension.
PULLMAN, Wash. – Scientists from Australia, Denmark, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States describe the research they conducted on organic and conventional farms to arrive at dollar values for natural processes that aid farming and that can substitute for costly fossil fuel-based inputs. The study appears in the journal PeerJ.
“By accounting for ecosystem services in agricultural systems and getting people to support the products from these systems around the world, we move stewardship of lands in a more sustainable direction, protecting future generations,” said Washington State University soil scientist John Reganold, one of the study’s authors. MORE
PULLMAN, Wash. – Prickly lettuce, a common weed that has long vexed farmers, has potential as a new cash crop providing raw material for rubber production, according to Washington State University scientists.
Writing in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, they describe regions in the plant’s genetic code linked to rubber production. The findings open the way for breeding for desired traits and developing a new crop source for rubber in the Pacific Northwest. MORE
Bad news in the media got you down? News consumers have only themselves to blame, says new research showing that it’s actually buying habits that drive negative press.
The research looks at the negative news phenomenon through the prism of economic science. And while previous studies have focused on the supply side by examining media output, this analysis is among the first to investigate a negative news bias from the consumer or demand side. MORE
Pullman, Wash. – You generally don’t find livestock among the hills of the Palouse region of eastern Washington where grain is grown. But wheat farmers Eric and Sheryl Zakarison are changing that – and making a profit.
On 100 of their 1,300 family owned acres, they are experimenting with a rather unconventional scheme for the region – growing wheat, peas, perennial grasses like alfalfa and sheep in a tightly integrated system. MORE
Hulbert Hall 403 PO Box 646240 Pullman, WA 99164-6240 PH: 509-335-4563 FAX: 509-335-6751 firstname.lastname@example.org
With 39 locations throughout the state, WSU Extension is the front door to the University. Extension builds the capacity of individual, organization, businesses and communities, empowering them to find solutions for local issues and to improve their quality of life. Extension collaborates with communities to create a culture of life-long learning and is recognized for its accessible, learner-centered, relevant, high-quality, unbiased educational programs.
Shellfish production in Washington is a $60 million a year industry. Several major pests plague this industry, resulting in major crop loss. One of the most important pests is subterranean burrowing shrimp. These shrimp bioturbate (stir up) the sediment, causing the oysters to sink and die. For the past 60 years the industry has been using the insecticide Sevin to control this pest, but due to lawsuits its use was phased out in 2012. Without alternative control for shrimp, tens of millions of dollars in annual crop revenue will be lost and the industry will quickly lose its economic viability in southwestern Washington.
The Environmental Protection Agency has identified agriculture as the leading contributor of pollutants to the nation’s rivers, streams, lakes, and reservoirs. These reports often do not separate animal agriculture from other agricultural enterprises, but they do note that pathogens, nutrients, and oxygen-depleting substances associated with manure are three of the top five pollutants. Some emerging issues related to manure management include: endocrine disruptors (hormones), pharmaceuticals (antimicrobials), and antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Adopting farm practices that minimize the environmental impact is important for food safety.
Biosolids are the solids produced during municipal wastewater treatment. Composts are made from a variety of organic materials, including both urban and agriculture sources such as yard trimmings, biosolids, storm debris, food waste or manure, and food processing residues. While these materials have traditionally been viewed as waste, they can play a valuable role as soil amendments in urban and agricultural settings. They provide nutrients and organic matter and they sequester carbon, thereby conserving resources, restoring soils, and combating climate change.
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Alumni & Friends
The WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS) Office of Alumni & Friends is a service unit dedicated to promoting philanthropic support for the college’s research, teaching, and extension programs.
CAHNRS seeks $190 million through the Campaign for WSU. This unprecedented fundraising goal is managed through the CAHNRS Office of Alumni and Friends. If you would like to learn more about the CAHNRS’s fundraising priorities, please explore our website or meet the team.
Through the Campaign for Washington State University, CAHNRS and WSU Extension will play a major role in defining answers to complex issues through truly big ideas—feeding the world, powering the planet, and ensuring the health and well-being of children, families, and communities. See below to learn more about how we are addressing these issues in our strategic and on-going initiatives and development of world-class students.